Walking into the City Opera Thrift Shop in New York City is purely intoxicating. The racks packed with clothing and the shelves brimming with stock, the smell of vintage leather dances inside your body with every breath. As I saunter over to the wall of vintage fur coats, I run my finger over the keys of the grand piano, oh how I wish I could play. I stop briefly, just long enough for something sparkly to catch my eye… the crystal chandeliers!
I’ll be the first to say that this isn’t the experience that many of us have in mind when considering secondhand shopping or thrifting. Often I find that the thrill of the thrift has been misjudged.
Countless people dislike thrift stores, for various reasons. Perhaps we are all haunted by the image of a dark, dirty, and depressing shop that smells of mothballs and mold. I totally understand. I have stumbled into my fair share of dismal thrift stores and swap shops in my time. But, let me assure you that most are fairly clean and well-organized. They sort out the broken, filthy, and otherwise unusable before putting items on the sales floor. And some even find useful ways to repurpose things that cannot be resold; helping to reduce landfill waste.
Whether you love the thrill of the chase, the action of hunting for that item or get giddy from a bargain, I have a list of Pro Secrets for Secondhand Shopping that can turn any woman’s trash into treasure.
The Selection of Secondhand
Thrift Store or Charity Shops
You might find this setting to be a bit chaotic to navigate through. Typically, you will find that they are run on a non-for-profit model or low profit. Think Goodwill or The Salvation Army. These stores are everywhere in the states. Depending on where you go you may find some really awesome pieces that are pretty unique. It can be difficult to find something high quality at one of these shops, but they are great if you have a sixth sense, like to hunt, and are willing to get creative.
This is a store that sells secondhand items on behalf of the original owner, who receives a percentage of the price after the item has sold. You can list your items for sale and make a few bucks too. These shops are typically higher in price than a charity or donation style shop. You may find higher end or designer items here as well.
Buy, Sell, Trade “Swap Shops”
This is a really cool idea and reminds me of going to GameStop with my brother years ago. These shops allow you to bring in clothing to sell or trade for store credit (a bit like consignment). You may need to be ready to do some digging at these shops, but they make it easy to rotate your closet if you like to mix things up.
Because everything is online, now you can secondhand shop too. Originally, one had to look to eBay for vintage online shopping, but that is no more. Did you know that you can shop Goodwill online? They list tons of the best stuff on their site, and all at great prices. But don’t forget the increasingly trendy Threadup, Etsy, and Poshmark. I promise that your online shopping addiction will not suffer my friend due to lack of secondhand options. So, go get your kicks!
Pro Secrets to Secondhand Shopping
- Give yourself plenty of time to shop
As in make a day of it or block off a little time to avoid panic. If possible, leave the kids at home.
- Have a plan and know what you need
I like to keep a Pinterest board of the things that I am looking for. Many times, I find that I don’t truly need an item right away and can typically find it second hand if I’m patient. You may not find exactly what you want the first time around, but I’m always happy when I finally do.
- Stick to what you know
Learn what colors, cuts, and shapes work with your body type. This will avoid buying anything unnecessary and also make the search a little easier. A lot of stores have their clothes arranged by color so knowing that you need a blue shirt will come in handy.
- Sizes are a lie
• It never matters if I buy something new or used, as far as clothing goes, my size is all over the place. Often, an item is donated or sold to a secondhand store because the fit might be off, so keep an open mind.
• Keep in mind that vintage sizes are usually 4-6 sizes smaller than what we expect today.
- Don’t create unnecessary waste
• I hate to say it, but trends can create waste. But, if you like to stay up to date or love a brand, you can find trendy or designer pieces secondhand. So even if you want to shop sustainably, you can totally snag whatever your heart desires.
• Let’s be strong in the face of nostalgia… You really don’t have a use for that cabbage patch doll that looks just like the one you had in first grade.
- Learn markers of quality
- Hardwood furniture is better quality and will last longer than veneer. Hardwood will have the same grain all the way through, and furniture with a veneer will be made of plywood on the inside and feel less porous.
• Natural materials are more expensive, regardless if it’s furniture or clothing, so when you see natural materials, you’re looking at a higher quality piece.
• Lining in clothing means it’s a higher quality item of clothing.
• A woven, not printed, tag in a piece of clothing means it’s a more expensive brand.
• Expensive, 100%-leather shoes will have a mark on the sole and the words “vero curo.” Shoes that are leather but have a rubber sole will be marked “leather upper.”
Insider tip: Use Label Resource to find out more about your vintage clothing label.
- The tailor is your new best friend
Don’t be afraid to have something tailored to fit you perfectly or to have it mended if it is otherwise in great shape. For just a few dollars any local tailor can repair most clothing problems and can make your clothing custom to fit you.
- Know when to shop
• Don’t shop on Saturday — shop Wednesday instead. Saturday is too picked over.
• Ask when your thrift store restocks so you can choose the best day to shop.
• Shop frequently. I find twice a week works best.
- Get a discount
• Check for any military, senior or service discounts. Our local store offered a discount to teachers and parents for back to school. You can stack discounts at most stores too.
• Most stores have a color of tag or a special colored bag that goes on sale each week on the same day.
• Savers marks down their tags on Monday.
• Goodwill marks down their tags on Sunday.
• Sign up for the email mailing list or texts.
• Ask if your store has an app.
• Shop with Grandma. Not only is it fun but you can use her senior discount too.
- The change of Seasons rule
I find the best stuff when the seasons change because everyone wants to declutter. But don’t forget to shop off-season for clothes. I have the best luck finding wool sweaters in June.
- Don’t be afraid to travel
It may sound crazy, but I love to secondhand shop even on vacation. I cannot wait to go back to Southern California next year to check out the awesome flea market thatAlli Cherryon Youtube visits frequently. She has some great tips for sustainable fashion and lifestyle. Check her out here.
- Harness the power of the internet
• Next time you want to find a new thrift store in your area, or anywhere else, just enter the zip code on thethriftshopper.com.
• Maybe that awesome vintage teacup caught your eye but you want to know a little more about it? Try looking it up online. Sometimes sellers will list similar items with descriptions.
- It’s all about location
But the answer might surprise you…
You may assume, nice area = nice thrift store. And while that is true in some cases, I find that the sketchy neighborhoods can hide some of the true treasures. Since each of the major charities that run thrift stores tends to appeal to a different kind of donor, each store will have a slightly different kind of stock, so again give yourself some time for a little trial and error.
- Don’t Be a Hoarder:
Thrifting is a slippery slope to go from ‘collector’ to ‘hoarder’. So, before you buy something at a thrift store, make sure that you have a use for it. Don’t fall into the “one day, someday” trap of buying an item for a house that you will one day have or a dress for the party you plan to attend someday.
- Know your charity
This is so important as a conscious consumer. Some thrift stores are run for profit and some for charity. Knowing who sponsors the store might provide valuable insight into what you’ll find there or incentive to buy from specific stores. Contrary to popular belief, most thrift stores do not exist solely to provide cheap goods for the poor. They exist to raise money to support their organization’s missions.
Here’s what a few popular thrift stores support:
• Goodwill Industries: Provides vocational rehabilitation for the disabled.
• Salvation Army: Offers shelter, food, job training, and Christian guidance to the poor.
• Many thrift stores are also run by churches and veterans’ groups; their goals are usually pretty self-evident.
- Get creative
One of the fun things about secondhand is thinking outside the box. Something as repurposing a plate and a candle holder to make a cake stand can ignite creativity! A waste-basket can hold a plant, suitcases can stack into a side table, etc.
- Give back
- Don’t forget to drop off the things you no longer use or need when you’re at the thrift store! Most of us have a pile of stuff to give away old clothes, an unused piece of furniture, a box of books pulled from the shelf to make more room. When you’re heading to the thrift store, pack it up and take it with you. I like to keep a box by the door or in my car so that it is easy to make donations. This makes it easy than ever to avoid throwing something away and providing a second life for that item.
- Even items that you may think that no one will want can be made useful through donation organizations. Goodwill, for example, will take any clean clothing item that is unable to be sold and have it repurposed into fiberfill for things like furniture filling. So as long as your old, worn out t-shirt is dry and free of mildew, it can have a second life and avoid the landfill.
- Try things on
NEVER go to a shop that doesn’t have a dressing room if you are buying clothing. Remeber how I said that sizes are a lie? Believe it. The dressing room also gives you the chance to get a good look at an item. Give it a good once over and inspect it for broken zippers, runs in the fabric, pulls, or any stains. Not that these are deal breakers but you want to be sure that the item is worth the investment to have it repaired or cleaned. An alternative is to wear a long maxi skirt so you can try things under your dress if there is no dressing room.
- Bring a big bag
Because you just spent all this time saving the world by being a super freaking amazing pro secondhand shopper, don’t forget to bring a reusable bag. And, make sure it is a really big one for all your thrifty finds.
I’m always on the hunt for thrifty tips. Did I miss anything? What is your favorite tip for secondhand shopping?